Paul Howard has given away more food over the years than he has sold.
Howard, 58, and owner of Smokin’ Howards, has worked for various roofing companies in New York and Kentucky to eventually running a roofing company of his own. No matter where he worked or who it was, he always made sure those around him were well-fed.
In the back of his mind, Howard said he knew he’d have a restaurant one day.
“I had to let people sample so I could reel them in,” he joked.
When Howard was 7 years old, his aunt, who raised Howard, told him she wasn’t going to live forever. She told Howard to get in the kitchen and start cooking.
“She believed in you learning and not be outside playing,” Howard said.
So, instead of spending his spare time playing, he learned how to cook full-course meals.
“I’ve been in the kitchen ever since,” Howard said. “And if it ain’t right, she would make me go back.”
His aunt believed in cooking fresh, so that’s how Howard came to be. She also believed in greens, lots and lots of greens.
In 1976, Howard started roofing. He traveled to New York as a young man to get away on his own.
“I went up there, worked up there and cooked up there,” Howard said.
Howard said the companies would send him to the store for groceries so he could come back and cook for them.
“They liked my food, and everybody ate it,” he said.
Howard said he returned to Kentucky after five years, coming back for his aunt and uncle. Howard said he learned so much from his biological mother, aunt and uncle. Paul, Howard’s uncle, told him Howard had three choices in life: military, education or a trade. Howard said he chose a trade.
“I keep pushing myself each and every day,” Howard said. “I want to honor what they instilled in me.”
All he does now, and did, is cook and roof.
About three years ago, Howard and his daughter, Molly Carter, 31, discovered the restaurant on Southwind Golf Course needed a new tenant.
“I told Molly this is what I like to do,” Howard said. “I cook anyway, let people taste good, fresh food, and I turned around, and we’ve been here three years.”
Carter has worked with Howard’s roofing business for years, so she said it felt natural to begin the restaurant journey with him.
“I love to cook too,” Carter said. “I love being in the kitchen. He taught me how to cook when I was 8 years old. So I’ve been in the kitchen cooking three-course meals since.”
They rarely ate at fast food joints such as McDonald’s but instead feasted on delicious home-cooked meals.
“I knew his food was good, so when he asked, I said yeah, let’s do it,” Carter said. “But I really didn’t think we’d still be rocking and rolling like we are. The support has been amazing.”
Howard said his business has been successful with regulars coming out to eat and the catering business growing.
“I appreciate all the people out there supporting us,” Howard said.
Carter said the customers have turned into family, and she hopes the Smokin’ Howards family keeps growing.
Smokin’ Howards is only open Thursday through Saturday during the winter season but opens for six days a week in the spring and summertime. They also host karaoke on Friday nights. In the summer, they’ll also offer live music.
Smokin’ Howards offers a variety of southern home-cooking and bar-style food such as green bean salad, macaroni and cheese, catfish, frog legs and the best chicken wings in town. Carter said they also offer pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs and other quicker foods to accommodate the golfers who want to get back on the course. And, of course, they put their heart into everything they cook.
Carter also tends to the bar.
“I make a good pixie stix, a good bloody mary and a good margarita too,” Carter said.
Howard said when he pours a drink, most people only need one.
“People will come in, and they’ll say they either want a Molly pour or a Paul pour,” Carter said.
When it comes to cooking, Howard’s picky. He has to cook fresh, and it has to be top of the line.
“We don’t do a frozen hamburger, we do a patted out hamburger,” Howard said. “We do fresh meatballs, great catfish, frog legs, anything I cook is top of the line.”
His favorite dishes are the fried chicken and macaroni and greens. Howard said also tries to make sure nothing goes to waste.
Carter said she tells her customers they cook like this at home.
“We want them to feel at home, that’s what brings them back as well,” Carter said.
Other than the great food, customers can also expect cleanliness, Howard said.
“When I wipe down, I wipe down with Dawn and bleach,” he said.
Though Smokin’ Howards is a bar and grill, it is also a family restaurant. Howard said he knows families need a restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and that’s what he offers.
“I see that families need a place where kids can kind of breathe a little bit,” Howard said. “Let ‘em run.”
Howard said one of the most challenging parts about owning a business is finding the right staff.
“It’s a learning process,” Howard said. “ … We want you to be a family to us because we want everyone to grow and make money with us. We are here to see you learn … I want to take the time out and teach.”
In the future, Howard said he’d like to expand, perhaps build a bigger kitchen.
“The people make you grow,” he said.
Howard said he enjoys being on the golf course. Howard said he likes to play when he’s not cooking or roofing. Though, he’s still usually cooking on his days off.
Carter said her father has passed out so much food that it made sense to start charging for it. Though, Howard still hasn’t lost his generous nature when it comes to his cooking. Howard recently donated pots of chili to Operation Happiness.
In all, Howard said he’s likely given away more than $10,000 in food over the years.
“It was great to hear people compliment your food,” Howard said. “ … It just made me want to continue on. That’s what makes me do it.”
“ … It’s something I’ll probably never stop doing.”